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Lod imam arrested for suspected incitement after Temple Mount clashes

Sheikh Yusuf Albaz questioned by police over comments on Al-Aqsa Mosque, his lawyer says; he was charged last year with incitement over online posts following May conflict

Sheikh Yusuf Albaz appears for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, on October 28, 2021. (Flash90)
Sheikh Yusuf Albaz appears for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, on October 28, 2021. (Flash90)

Police arrested an imam in the central city of Lod on Saturday for suspected incitement to violence, law enforcement officials said.

Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, 63, an imam at Lod’s Great Mosque, was questioned over his positions regarding Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, his lawyer told the Haaretz daily.

According to the newspaper, Albaz hosted Sheikh Raed Salah — the firebrand leader of an outlawed Islamist group — at his mosque last Thursday, angering local Jewish residents. Salah was released from prison in December after a 17-month sentence for inciting terror and membership in an illegal organization.

Albaz is also affiliated with the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which was banned in 2015 for alleged terror ties.

The imam also participated in a conference at his mosque in London on Sunday, railing at Israeli authorities for “intervening in what is happening in the [Al-Aqsa] mosque.” There have been near-daily clashes between Palestinians and police on the Temple Mount in recent weeks amid the holy month of Ramadan.

“Imagine what would have happened if they had done it in a synagogue,” Albaz was quoted as saying by Haaretz, referring to police riot control in and around the mosque.

Police said he was arrested over “the publication of content in the past week that is suspected of incitement against the security forces, and support for violent disturbances of order, among other things.”

He is to be brought before a court on Sunday to request an extension to his remand, police said.

Albaz was charged last July with incitement in connection with social media posts that appeared to encourage violence against the police and threaten the city’s deputy mayor.

Tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities had spiraled into mob violence in multiple ethnically mixed communities last May — during an 11-day conflict in Gaza — with several cities descending into mayhem and police failing to contain the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.

Lod saw some of the worst ethnic violence, with a Jewish and an Arab man killed in separate incidents during the unrest.

Albaz also referred to Israel as an “enemy state” and wished “deaths” upon the “Zionist occupation” in past online posts.

The arrest came as tensions have risen sharply between Israel and the Palestinians in recent weeks against the backdrop of repeated terror attacks in Israeli cities and West Bank settlements that left 15 dead.

The escalation has come amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — often a period of high tension in Israel and the West Bank.

The army has stepped up its West Bank activities in an attempt to crack down on the spiraling violence. The ensuing raids sparked clashes that left at least 26 Palestinians dead, many of whom took part in the clashes, while others appeared to have been uninvolved civilians.

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